A Day Away by Mike Steely
Named for the former Tennessee Senator who served as president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the Andrew Johnson Highway begins when Asheville Highway splits and the northeast portion becomes the AJ Highway heading toward Jefferson City and Morristown.
As you drive east from downtown and pass beneath Interstate 40, you’ll pass the former drive-in theater now known as River Breeze Event Center. Continue east and watch for Mascot Road on the left. If you turn left then turn right before the bridge and you’ll discover Knox County’s newest park, the McBee Ferry Landing Park.
McBee Ferry Landing Park
This four-acre park was donated by Legacy Parks and was the site of a historic ferry that served the area across the Holston River before it was replaced by the Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge connecting Strawberry Plains to Mascot. Operated in the late 1700s by the family of William McBee who lived nearby.
Knox County’s newest park was dedicated on March 30 by Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Legacy Park’s Carol Evans, Parks and Recreation Director Joe Mack, and District 8 Commissioner Richie Beeler. The little park is located at 1233 Old Strawberry Plains Road.
If you’d like to visit the historic Strawberry Plains you can double back to the AJ Highway and continue east until you reach Old West Andrew Johnson Highway.
Strawberry Plains, which sits near the Knox- Jefferson county line, has two historic churches, a large old cemetery, the iconic Parrott-Wood Memorial Library, and the large Rush Strong Elementary School.
The unincorporated town was the first established settlement in Jefferson County and was named for the wild strawberries that grew there. The name was established by railroad workers who used the name for the railroad depot and first post office there.
During the Civil War Strawberry Plains was occupied by Confederate forces who guarded the railroad bridge there and built a large earthen fort on the north side of the Holston. Later the town had several stores, a gristmill, the railroad and train depot, a gas station and several restaurants.
You can leave the little town by way of Bend Road, south, and enter AJ Highway heading east toward New Market and Jefferson City. Or you could continue along Old Andrew Johnson Highway.
New Market is a small town of about 1,400 residents. In 1904 two passenger trains collided near the town, killing more the 54 people.
The historic New Market Presbyterian Church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New Market is the home of the Highlander Research Education Center. In 2009 the Northfork Southern Railway proposed a 1,300-acre park there but the project remained stagnant and no plans have been made currently for the project that would have provided about 1,700 jobs.
The town is the childhood home of Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of “The Secret Garden” and several other books.
New Market also is the home of Houston’s Mineral Waters, a captured spring inside a unique building where you can drink from the fountain for free or fill your gallon jugs by putting 50 cents into the money box. It’s been a Tennessee tradition since 1931 when William Avery Houston dug a well. The family-owned business may be the only one authorized by the state that operates on an honor system.
You can continue along AJ Highway toward Jefferson City and visit the Glenmore Mansion on North Chucky Pike, just off East Old Andrew Johnson Highway. You can enter that old highway as you enter Jefferson City just past the Jefferson Memorial Hospital, taking the road northeast through the city.
The Gilmore Mansion was built in 1868 by John Roper Banner and is the only public house museum in Jefferson County. The Victorian home was occupied by only two families over the years and is recognized by the Tennessee Historical Society.
You can continue on AJ Highway to Morristown and beyond or, in Jefferson City, take Hwy 92 south from the main intersection to I-40 and return to Knox County.